“Paranormal Group ‘Science’ Disputed” Letter to the Editor Published!

I recently submitted a letter to the editor to the local Times Leader newspaper and it was published, with little or no alterations that criticizes ‘paranormal investigation’ and flatly, with no reserve, calls it pseudoscience. While this critique is mainly focused on a local group, NEPA Paranormal, the points made can generally be applied to any paranormal group or claims. This critique, though, is quite limited (less than 250 words), but I get my point across.

I’m really happy about this publication and give the Times Leader editor lots of credit for publishing this critique. Unfortunately, there is an extreme lack of skepticism in the media and the pseudoscience to skepticism ratio is overwhelming toward pseudoscience. I also published a slightly longer version of this critique on my Examiner.com page. Without further delay, this is the letter as published in the Times Leader:

Paranormal group ‘science’ disputed

A recently published article titled “Paranormal investigators take on Swetland Homestead” features members of the local group NEPA Paranormal investigating the Swetland Homestead in Wyoming. Although NEPA Paranormal claims that its work is scientific, its work is anything but scientific.

NEPA Paranormal, according to its website’s home page, takes “a scientific approach to the paranormal,” but its “About Us” page notes that the members “do believe the paranormal exists, and want some answers.” Right from the start, NEPA Paranormal members are not acting scientifically; they are starting with an unsubstantiated belief that the paranormal exists when those who are properly scientific should start from a neutral position of non-belief.

NEPA Paranormal’s website also notes the use of “professional equipment” such as “geophones” (“to pick up vibrations such as phantom footsteps”), EMF meters (the group has “theories that spirits may givr (sic) off EMF when trying to manifest itself (sic)”) and EVP Field Processors (to capture “human-sounding voices from an unknown source”). Such devices are not endorsed by scientific studies, but rather rejected.

Paranormal investigation similar to that of NEPA Paranormal is not scientific, but rather is pseudo-scientific. Operating under the guise of science, paranormal investigators lack sufficient evidence to establish their claims, endorse unprovable claims, present information that runs contrary to scientific findings, and attribute the unexplained and ambiguous to paranormal activity instead of saying “I don’t know” or looking for naturalistic explanations.

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula hosts the Stoic Philosophy Podcast; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and has hosted monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia.

He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events.

Vacula received bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is currently living in the Scranton, PA area attending Marywood University’s graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and has worked with the Arc of Luzerne County’s Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher’s assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign while playing at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.

  • j__h

    Is a neutral position one of non-belief?Should a scientific study initially make any judgment about the prior validity of a claim or only when looking at the results should it use the prior knowledge to weigh the evidence from their study?I much enjoyed your article, thanks for writing it!

  • Chris

    I think a neutral position is indeed “non-belief” if the author uses the term as I do, as opposed to “disbelief” or a positive assertion that a claim is untrue. This is subtle distinction, and perhaps an area of nonstandard semantics, something that I wish were made more clear by our language itself and its common usage. Holding no opinion, or admitting “I don’t know” is a very important idea, as important to rational thought as zero is to our number system.

  • Specifically, in this case, I mean no endorsement of belief about a claim until said claim is demonstrated in be true in some manner. The letters to the editor are rough because they are limited in words, but they get the point across.